The rehabilitation and improvements on Pag-asa Island in Palawan will continue despite China’s apparent attempt to dissuade the government from embarking on the project, Armed Forces chief of staff Gen. Eduardo Año said on Tuesday.
Año told reporters that the military campaign to liberate Marawi City from Islamic State-inspired terrorists had not distracted the government from its plan to improve facilities in the country’s possessions in the West Philippine Sea, nearly 90 percent of which was claimed by China.
“We have enough forces in all the nine islands, reefs and atolls (in the Kalayaan Island Group, KIG) … Our priority is to improve the conditions on Pag-asa Island, especially the refurbishing and renovation of the runway,” Año said.
Pag-asa Island is the only inhabited island in the KIG, the part of the disputed South China Sea wherein the Philippines has modest military installations to mark its territory.
Año said the planned improvements in any of the KIG did not violate the Declaration of the Code of Conduct among the South China Sea claimants.
“Under the Code of Conduct (COC), you can improve the islands, reefs and shoals that you are presently occupying,” Año said. “What the [COC] does not allow is the occupation of additional areas, islands or atolls.”
Two weeks ago, Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano warned that a Chinese flotilla was spotted near Pag-asa Island, which is within the 200-nautical mile of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
Alejano also slammed the Duterte administration, particularly Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, for keeping a “policy of silence” on the South China Sea dispute.
President Duterte has been building friendly relations with China on all fronts.
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